Sun slowly rises from the east, it’s that time of morning when neither dark nor light can decide who has a larger grip on the atmosphere. There is softness in the morning light engulfing all within sight while a single dull ray tries it’s hardest to squeeze through the blinds into my sleeping area. A rattling, squealing noise rambles off in the distance, my groggy head rises from the pillow instantly recognizing it to be a John Deer carefully dragging a plot of dirt that will soon be either a place of speed and scores or a cushion for the unfortunate. It is time to rise.
Coffee brewing brings a smell that always snaps me into the present. My bones hurt and joints crack as I carefully pull my pants from the floor while checking my shirt for damage, or wrinkles that may indicate I slept on it last night. Real estate is a premium inside our 3 horse trailer and it’s not uncommon for clothing, bedding and blankets to become a tangled web easier to let be than untangle. Some days it’s so bad we head out the door wearing whatever comes easiest. When the day is through it really doesn’t matter as most everything we own is covered in a mixture of dust, sweat and animal fluids. It is just the way it is and you wear it with pride.
My son and daughter have risen, our horses need to be fed and so do they prior to today’s activities. Microwavable breakfast sandwiches a cup of coffee/ orange juice, brush your teeth (not necessarily in that order) and its check in time. Afterwards they hook up with friends then start warming up horses. Their day is full, between caring for horses, warming them up, performing, helping in the arena, helping buddies during events then cooling horses off and feeding for the evening they are constantly moving from sun up to sun down. It’s good for them both as hard work, camaraderie and competition help mold them for adulthood.
Stepping outside words of good morning are echoed from our trailer neighbors as well as every parent you come across. Hands are shook, smiles, laughter and stories are the topic of the morning. These are wonderful solid people, many come from ranches and are second or third generation rodeo families. In the distance an announcer is checking his equipment with a repeated; TEST, TEST echoing across the grounds. The grandstands slowly begin filling as family and friends file in to watch the show. It is the very beginning of a weekend that will not disappoint.
A few words from the announcer, the National Anthem then goat tying starts the day with poles running in the big arena. Seniors and juniors vying for opposite space. The sound of two announcers reverberating gives notice to those not surrounding either ring that competition has in fact begun. Nervous parents run back and forth ensuring their kids have all they need while others move about on horseback with all the confidence of seasoned rodeo veterans.
I love the smell of horses and saddles, there is just something about it that leaves me feeling content. When I am around horses, either walking or on horseback my brain quits moving at a hundred miles an hour, my heart rate slows and the world just seems to be, well, at peace. Horses have kept me grounded, given me purpose and I’m always trying my hardest to learn each and every ones personality and quirks. These four legged creatures have kept me sane while missing my wife, both at home and during every rodeo for the last two years. Standing alone, along a fence line watching my daughter tie her goat after jumping from the dizzying height of her little pony there is nothing for me to think about, no stresses, just pride at watching her do something she was terrified to even attempt not that long ago.
As quickly as I am at parental peace with my daughter, my son texts me that it is time. Saddling his rope horse, climbing aboard and heading into the warm up pen we slowly work up from walk, trot to lope. Some good solid stops getting lighter in the mouth each time and he is ready to go. My son is aboard the Steer Wrestling horse trying his best to clear his mind, readying himself for competition against some of his closest friends. In no more than two hours’ time we shift gears and horses warming up the turn back horse and cutting horse. There are many events in rodeo and his events of choice are Tie Down Roping, Team Roping, Cutting and Steer Wrestling. My daughter competes in Goat Tying, Poles and Barrels.
When not warming up our horses, I enjoy helping during the cutting with turn back duties and then it’s off to the return chutes where hanging with my friends watching the performance while moving calves and steers keeps us all busy for the remainder of the day. We stand tall and constantly yell, cheer and help these kids feel good no matter their outcome in the arena. For little do they really know just how amazing they are and as parents standing in the same spot every rodeo we have the privilege of witnessing their continued improvement from countless hours of practice throughout the year! It is a great weekend that’s all about them, a payback for their hard work.
Red sky and a setting sun shining through a permanent layer of dirt hovering in the air tells me the day is done. There are scrapes and bruises, kids kick the dirt from their boots and clothes, while chaps and bull ropes are hung with care. The announcers’ booth powers down, arena lights begin to glow and the stands are emptied. Horses are washed and fed, bbq smoke and laughter comes from every camp as war stories are told with glee. A perfect tie-down, the best team roping time of the year, did you see the air under my but when I got bucked off? Laughter and friends after a long day helping knock off the day’s highs and lows, chuckle at knuckle head moves and pat those on the back who lead in their events. Young men and women forging friendships they will have for life over a shared love of friendly competition and the ranching way of life. These kids or small adults wander the grounds in packs like coyotes looking for their next free meal or easy place to crash. They are funny little versions of ourselves who pretend to the best of their abilities to appear grown-up. I love watching them interact with each other, they are truly funny. At the end of the day these are the stories we adults will share with our grandchildren.
Country music blares from every corner of this place as I sit in my chair, boots off, enjoying a beverage, soaking it all in while wondering just how much longer I am going to make it before falling asleep. Before long I have my answer. It is dark, chilly and a fire is blazing for warmth, most everyone has already crashed with the exception of a handful of us. My son heads in to hit the hay letting me know what a great day it’s been, my daughter is out cold in her tent. Once inside he is out cold in two seconds. Turning everything off and checking our horses one last time after bidding a goodnight to our friends I slowly make my way inside, my pants hit the floor and somewhere there is a clean shirt hidden inside my messy bunk. Oh well, stretching carefully across it, before I can completely exhale my lights are out and tomorrow the smell of coffee will start this cycle all over again. What a great life!
Let’s go, lets show, lets rodeo…